Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks and societal tectonics

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
As I was reading the article/interview of WikiLeaks' Julian Assange by Andy Greenberg at Forbes, suddenly the analogy of plate tectonics popped into my head. This whole WikiLeaks phenomenon strikes me as just one instance (but a pretty significant one) of what is analogous to the earthquakes that occur topside as a result of our planet's very deep structures shifting more slowly and far more significantly than we can probably imagine.

We are living in a time of significant social change on a global scale and there are rift zones creating a lot of pressure these days, and issues that are visible to us cluster around these rift zones. One significant source of pressure is the nation-state, an Enlightenment idea given concrete political expressions starting roughly in the 18th century. One concrete political expression of this idea of the nation-state is, of course, the United States of America. So read on for a few quick reflections on this and how theology comes in...

What interests me here is how the seeds of the nation-state's diminishment were sown by itself. Note how the prevalent and radically decentralized technologies of the Internet and GPS were created by the U.S. Department of Defense's DARPA. It is now this unwieldy beast that governments are so desperately trying to reign in.

Also note how an organization like WikiLeaks is actually rewarded in some sense by the U.S. government, in light of recent post-economic crisis legislation that protects whistle-blowers. I'm sure lawmakers weren't picturing such protections being used in this way. Go after those nasty bankers, yes, but our military?

So what is the theological import of all this? If I only paid attention to the news and blogosphere, all this stuff would freak me out. In fact, sometimes it does when I misplace the primary lens of the Christian faith. It can feel like the weight of the world's problems are paralyzing me. So the good news that Jesus Christ proclaimed and fully embodied is a significant reality check to his modern-day disciples, to his body, his bride, the Church. Indeed, the biblical narrative as a whole is a reality check to all this madness. God speaks into this repeatedly throughout scripture by saying both implicitly and explicitly: "Be not afraid."

The will to power is nothing new in humanity, despite its recent globalization. The prophets spoke of rising nations - Assyria, Babylon - threatening to chastise unfaithful Israel. When the unthinkable happened, and the people of Israel were scattered and weeping by the waters of Babylon (Ps. 137). To those crying, "How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?", the prophet Jeremiah spoke a surprising word from the Lord: "Seek the peace of the city to which I have carried you into exile." (Jer. 29)

As a pilgrim people sandwiched between the cross and the eschaton, Christians live in an inescapable tension, being in the world but not of it. That problem is always there, but the nature of the problem is always shifting. It's always historical, always contextual. So while the tectonic plates of global societies shift, we're up here on the surface, discerning wisely, and acting faithfully. May it be so...

[Graphic credit: Public domain image posted by Blatant World]

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